After starting off on the wrong foot when residents could not get into the Community Center, the public forum, scheduled for citizens to voice their concerns about electrical rates, ended on a more positive note.
When a key to the Community Center could not be found, about 60 residents packed the Board of Commissioners meeting room at town hall on Thursday night to talk about electricity rates, and several shared common stories of frustration over high energy bills.
Elected officials were on hand, as well as representatives from ElectriCities. Red Springs is part of ElectriCities, a membership organization that includes public power communities in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.
The public forum was held by town officials who were responding to growing complaints about rising electric costs. The meeting location was changed at the last minute from the community center to town hall, but many drove or walked to the Main Street location.
The town experienced a 4 percent increase in the wholesale cost of electric power in February, not long after a rate increase in August 2008.
One woman, a single parent who said she is struggling to make ends meet, spoke of her concerns.
“I’m not skeptical — I’m frustrated,” she said. She said for most of the day, there is no one home and yet her bills are high. She said she works from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. many days.
“There’s no one in my house. The lights are off ... I’m already doin’ my part, but I’m paying $400 to $500 for my light bill.”
Another resident suggested the town government help create a local fund to help poor people with their energy bills.
“I do feel your frustration,” said Commissioner Eula McNeill.
Brian McGinn, a residential energy advisor with ElectriCities, offered the longest presentation to residents, explaining the many things that can be done to help cut back high energy bills, from more attic insulation to turning down the temperature on a water heater.
The town, through ElectriCities, offers free residential home energy audits, and the crowd was encouraged to sign up for audits at the end of the meeting.
”Control your thermostat,” McGinn said, saying keep it turned down in the winter, and turned up in the summer.
Heating and cooling systems are the items that drive up your electric bill, McGinn said. The water heater is next, and should be adjusted so it’s lower than 120 degrees.
There are two ways to affect energy costs: Make changes to your house, “and change how you use energy,” he said.
An old unused chimney is a major energy drain, he said, says a dormant chimney should be sealed.
”Attic insulation is very, very important,” he said.
McGinn also recommended using low-flow shower heads and switching to fluorescent bulbs, which can last five to seven years and use significantly less energy than traditional bulbs.
”There are solutions to the problem,” he said.
”Anything that is plugged in uses electricity — whether it’s on or not,” McGinn said.
Cell phone chargers use power if they remain plugged in when not recharging your phone, he said, and coffee makers not in use should also be unplugged.
”All of these things can add up,” he said.
The town’s new town manager, Tony White, helped organize the Thursday forum and said he plans to have open-ended town forums four times a year.
White made reference to the recent municipal elections, which saw John McNeill elected mayor and brought three new faces to the town board.
”We’ll see new ideas and have a new outlook, and it’s refreshing to look outside the box to solve our problems,” he said. “Your concerns are not being ignored, they are not falling on deaf ears ... my door is always open.”